By Michelle Lampariello and Elizabeth Zakaim
Managing Editor and News Editor
Waving gay and transgender pride flags, handmade signs, and for some women, their own shirts, students rallied together to show representatives from the conservative religious group Bible Believers that the College community will not tolerate hateful speech.
Amid the uproarious crowd and bobbing signs, the familiar piano intro to “Imagine” by John Lennon blasted through two amplifiers sitting outside the entrance of Eickhoff Hall. The students who brought the speakers and music wanted to stress the idea of unity in the face of conflict.
“We don’t need to separate ourselves based on ideologies like the ones we’re focusing on here,” said Nicholas Falk, a freshman English and education double major. “We can instead come together and just realize that we’re all one people, all one humanity.”
As the crowd in Alumni Grove grew denser on Thursday, April 12, representatives from the religious group occupied a patch of grass between the library and Eickhoff Hall to preach about their disapproval of feminists, Muslims, homosexuals, witches, liars, drunks, “porno freaks,” masturbators and the Pope.
Two men — Pastor Aden and preacher James Ross — as well as a teenager and a young boy, all of whom are active members of the Bible Believers, held up signs that argued their points even when their voices were drowned out by students’ chants, which consisted of synchronized screaming of everything from “peace and love” to “fuck you.”
Some signs focused on the Bible Believers’ anti-feminist platform, reading “feminists are whores,” “women belong in the kitchen” and “feminists are pedophiles.” Others focused on the group’s general religious principles, such as “there is a way that seems unto a man but in the end leads to DEATH,” “Jesus waterboards pedophiles,” “true love warns” and “your truth is relative to God.”
Ross did the majority of communication with students, and expressed his disdain for feminism on campus.
“This campus is infested with semen eaters,” Ross said.
Coincidentally, the Muslim Students’ Association was holding a bake sale in Alumni Grove to raise money to sponsor an orphan prior to the Bible Believers’ arrival. When the Bible Believers arrived around noon making anti-Muslim comments and holding up signs that read “Jesus or hellfire,” MSA members held up their bake sale sign in peaceful protest of the religious group.
“We got here before they did, so we saw them come onto campus,” said Amaly Elmenshawy, a sophomore elementary education and history double major and MSA’s public relations chair. “Campus Police came up to us with the school’s administration and said, ‘They have a permit. We can’t do anything about them (because) we’re a public campus. We stand by you — we want you to know that we don’t personally don’t support this.’”
Elmenshawy explained that several Campus Police officers and College faculty members purchased goods from MSA’s bake sale to show their support for the organization. One professor brought her class to the protest, handed MSA $60, and told them that it should cover any items her students want from the bake sale. Elmenshawy and other MSA members were particularly grateful for the professor’s donation, knowing that the $60 was more than enough
to cover the purchases of approximately 10 students.
The College was made aware that morning that the Bible Believers were planning an on-campus protest at noon to preach the gospel. While the group’s message was not consistent with the College’s values, the Bible Believers were allowed to protest in accordance with the “Use of Campus Property” policy and the First Amendment, according to an email sent out by Angela Chong, the vice president of student affairs.
As the Bible Believers’ anti-feminist rhetoric escalated, both male and female students began to shout back at Ross, offended by his insistence that “women belong in the kitchen.”
“Ladies, keep your legs closed until marriage,” Ross said to the women in the crowd.
One female student removed her shirt in defiance of Ross’ comments. She argued with Ross and Pastor Aden, who proudly sported a hat that read “Repent Whore.” The student then calmly lay down on the grass in front of the Bible Believers, and was joined minutes later by several other female students who had also removed their shirts.
“I’m on the e-board of Women in Learning and Leadership, and in our group chat someone said that there was a hateful protest going on outside of Eick, so I basically ran out and he was calling all of us whores,” said Ava Oakley, a sophomore women’s, gender and sexuality studies and early childhood education double major. “So me and three of my friends ran out, took our shirts off and stood in front of them.”
Some students remained at the fringes of the protest, while others stood up against the barricades Campus Police had put up, arguing loudly with the Bible Believers.
Ross, originally from California, said he was proud to preach at the College.
“(God) wants you to stop sinning,” Ross said.
Ross believes that committing sins such as having sex outside of marriage, drinking or masturbating would land students a spot in hell for violating God’s holy rules. His main message to students was to “stop sinning and obey Jesus.”
While he did not expect any particular reaction from students, he was satisfied having spent the time spreading his message.
“If you’re still masturbating and trying to get them to God it’s not gonna work,” Ross said. “God sees what you’re doing and he’s telling you to stop.”
The College was just one stop of many for the Bible Believers, according to Ross. They held a similar protest at Princeton University two weeks ago.
The Bible Believers also protested at Montclair State University in March.
Catriona Leary, a freshman political science major, asked if she could have a short moment of Ross’ time to express her perspective on his statements.
“I just want you to think about what you’re doing,” Leary said. “I’m not telling you to change what you’re doing, or change your ways or lose your faith … but I really want you to just sit and think how you’re helping people, how you’re hurting people and if this is beneficial.”
Leary also asked Ross to think about whether or not God or Jesus would would appreciate his preaching.
Pastor Aden, who is from Philadelphia, said he has been participating in similar demonstrations for about three or four years.
“We don’t want people to go to hell — we love people,” Pastor Aden said.
Pastor Aden explained that he is present and vocal at these protests because he loves sinners.
“It’s called tough love,” he said. “Many of these kids’ parents should have spanked them because a lot of them are having sex before marriage. A lot of them are on antidepressants. A lot of them could not be police officers. They’re out of shape — it’s not good. The bible says your body’s a temple, the Holy Ghost.”
Pastor Aden hoped his protesting would inspire students to find Jesus.
“They might start to read the Bible — that’s my prayer,” he said.
Pastor Aden did not want to continue to be interviewed by a female, and proceeded to defer all further questions to his wife.
“You can email my wife with more questions,” he said. “My wife talks to the women, I talk to the men, OK?”
Most students grew livid hearing the Bible Believers use sexist, homophobic and anti-feminist slurs.
“I thought this shit only happens on TV,” said Jeff Macias, a sophomore art education major. “I know they’re just doing this to piss people off — y’all have nothing else better to do with your lives.” Macias said he took a selfie in front of the signs the protesters were holding up and captioned his photo, “I’m going to hell and I’m proud.”
Brian Peng, a freshman english secondary education major, held up a gay pride flag in defiance of the Bible Believers.
“It really must get tiring to hate so many people in your life,” Peng said. “I feel sorry for them.”
Peng handed over a plastic megaphone to his friend next to him, who then screamed, “TCNJ loves gays,” amidst the shouts of the bubbling crowd.
In an attempt to drown out the Bible Believers with music, Phi Mu Alpha brothers Ryan Price, a senior music education major, and Paul Brodhead, a sophomore computer engineering major, brought their trombones to the protest.
“We like playing music outside, and fuck this guy,” Price said. “We’re just trying to lighten the mood here and get people thinking about other things. You can’t be angry when you listen to music.”
Chris Blakeley, president of Student Government and a junior civil engineering major, acknowledged that the Bible Believers had a right to share their views under the protection of the First Amendment, but was concerned about the impact the demonstrators’ words would have on students.
“My main goal is to make sure that everything is peaceful and there’s no throwing anything or causing any problems and we’re following the practices that we have in place as a College,” Blakeley said. “It’s exciting to see the community really rallying behind and being supportive of other members of our community, and I think that’s what we should focus on rather than all of the hate and negativity coming from the presenting group on campus.”
Several professors joined the crowd of passionate students. Most remained on the outskirts of the protest, observing as students surrounded the Bible Believers to contradict their arguments in loud disagreements.
“We can make the argument that free speech is free speech, but at the same time we also have to be mindful of the effect of certain speech on us,” said Winnifred Brown-Glaude, a professor of African-American studies and sociology. “Does this kind of speech align with our values as a college community? If you want to make those kinds of remarks, do it in a park someplace. These views are antithetical to a college community — that’s not who we are, so why would we allow this kind of speech in this place?”
Brown-Glaude felt that the Bible Believers’ decision to bring children with them to the demonstration was concerning.
“It’s one thing for an adult to place himself in this situation, but to subject children to it is highly problematic,” she said. “There should be a child welfare representative here for no other reason but for the children.”
Students agreed with Brown-Glaude, as the presence of children inspired a “free those kids” chant within the crowd.
More than two hours after the demonstration began, at approximately 2:15 p.m., the Bible Believers were escorted away from the premises by police. Pastor Aden switched out his “Repent Whore” cap for one that said “I (love) haters” as the Bible Believers packed up their posters, which prompted a “Where’s the love?” chant from students.
“Go crash your fucking car,” one student yelled as the Bible Believers were ushered into police cars that promptly drove away down the sidewalk leading to Roscoe West Hall.